Hamas planned to carry out a massive attack on Israel by penetrating Israeli communities via tunnels dug under the border from the Gaza Strip, then killing or kidnapping as many people as possible, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officials confirmed Tuesday. The plan was thwarted by Israel’s destruction of the tunnels during this summer’s Gaza war.
In a report published Tuesday by Vanity Fair, IDF spokesperson, Peter Lerner, said the Hamas terror group expected to use the tunnels to penetrate Israel, attack civilian areas, and “inflict mass casualties.”
Lerner said, “Hamas had a plan,” adding, “a simultaneous, coordinated, surprise attack within Israel.”
“They planned to send 200 terrorists armed to the teeth toward civilian populations,” Lerner continued. “This was going to be a coordinated attack. The concept of operations involved 14 offensive tunnels into Israel. With at least 10 men in each tunnel, they would infiltrate and inflict mass casualties.”
Vanity Fair cited an unnamed security official stating that Hamas was forced to abandon its strategy once the summer war was launched. Over the course of the war, Israel destroyed dozens of the tunnels.
Other military intelligence officials cited by the maganzine noted that Hamas aimed to inflict massive damage on IDF and civilian targets while also scoring a morbid publicity coup.
“First, get in and massacre people in a village,” one official explained. “Pull off something they could show on television. Second, the ability to kidnap soldiers and civilians using the tunnels would give them a great bargaining chip.”
In 2006, Hamas operatives used a tunnel to kill two soldiers and capture a third, Gilad Shalit, whom they used as a bargaining chip, eventually trading him for 1,027 Palestinian terror prisoners.
Destroying the tunnels was one of Israel’s main objectives during Operation Protective Edge, the 50-day conflict fought between Israel and Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip.
During the war, Hamas gunmen emerged from undetected tunnels on several occasions to ambush IDF forces, killing several soldiers.
Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal told Vanity Fair the tunnels were only for defensive operations against Israeli forces.
“The tunnels may have been outwardly called ‘offensive tunnels,’ but in actual fact they are ‘defensive ones,'” he said.
Mashaal dismissed as circumstantial the fact that many of the tunnels led to Israeli civilian communities near the border.
“There are Israeli towns adjacent to Gaza,” he noted. “Have any of the tunnels been used to kill any civilian or any of the residents of such towns? No. Never!” Mashaal added that Hamas used the tunnels either to strike beyond the back lines of the Israeli army or to raid some military sites. “This proves that Hamas is only defending itself,” Mashaal said.